Europe IPA prices ease for the first time in three months

Anne-Sophie Briant-Vaghela

07-May-2020

LONDON (ICIS)–European isopropanol (IPA) prices fell at the high end this week pushing the mid-point price down for the first time in nearly three months after reaching a historic high on unprecedented demand.

Downward price pressure is driven by easing supply issues and a slight softening of demand.

IPA demand has seen a surge from manufacturers of hand gel solutions and surface disinfectants as Europe has taken on the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

But this week technical grade IPA prices fell 1.6%, with the high end moving down €100/tonne. The technical grade range was assessed at €2,750-3,450/tonne.

The low end retreated €50/tonne last week but the downtrend was countered by a strong push up on the eve of the propylene contract price settlement.

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IPA prices bottomed at €795/tonne FD NWE in February after 10 months of erosion.   A sharp rise since has boosted the IPA mid-point price up nearly four times its trough value,  a whopping 286.5% increase in just under three months.

The feedstock propylene May contract price settled 12% down from April last week but the correlation between feedstock and derivative prices was distorted by the tightness still pervading in the derivative market.

Availability continues to improve on a steady flow of imports, with deliveries expected to keep coming well into June. However some delays on cargoes expected in June were heard again this week. Appetite for material to be delivered into July remained muted.

Demand appears to be cooling from its peak seen in March-April, albeit remaining much above annual levels for this time of year due to ongoing robust demand for hand gels and disinfectants.

“There is still plenty of demand keeping  the market quite buoyant and people are still interested in hand gels but it’s not the panic it used to be,” said a buyer.

“We still do find enquiries from clients normally not served, a clear sign that it’s still not back to normal, but not the kind of bonanza it was a month ago, with people in remote connection with the market jumping on IPA,” said a distributor.

Buyers in traditional applications for the solvent are finding it easier to source IPA and at much lower prices month on month.

Requirements were being met as demand for those also were seeing a slight pick up in orders month on month. IPA customers in the packaging sector have brisk sales and said they are able to source IPA to run their operations.

Several buyers in traditional IPA applications such as paints and coatings or  esterquats going into softeners were heard being able to source European product  at lower prices, after weeks of struggle with procurement from their regular suppliers.

Those in active in printing inks servicing the food packaging industry were seeing continued improved demand.

Sellers at the high end were conceding deals at the very high end were not echoed this week.

At least one producer lowered offers on both grades.

Demand for some applications like lubricants was down 20-30% in May with  participants’ requirements for the month covered on contract.

Persisting slower demand for paints and coatings was noticed as lockdowns were still impinging activity in key markets.

IPA is a solvent used in many industrial and consumer products and as an extractant. Applications include cosmetics, personal care products, de-icers, paints and resins, pharmaceuticals and inks and adhesives

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